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Children's Rights

Child Abuse As A Defense In The Courtroom

Individual histories of child abuse were increasingly used in criminal trials as a defense against serious allegations. One of the earliest and most publicized cases involving a defense involving child abuse was the murder trial of the Menendez brothers in Southern California. In August 1989 Erik and Lyle Menendez murdered their parents in their Beverly Hills mansion. The two brothers stood to inherit $14 million. The following March they were arrested and charged with murder. During their trial they claimed the murders were in self-defense after years of sexual abuse by their father and neglect by their mother. After an initial mistrial for one of the two brothers, a jury found them guilty in 1996 and sentenced them to life in prison.

Similarly in October 1994 Susan Smith in Union County, South Carolina, drove her car into a lake drowning her three-year-old and sixteen-month-old sons. She murdered her children in order to keep a love affair alive with a boyfriend. In her defense, Smith claimed she suffered several emotional problems including depression following years of sexual abuse from a stepfather. The jury found Smith guilty of murder but gave her a life in prison sentence rather than death, perhaps because of the defense.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawChildren's Rights - Protection Of Children, Childcare, Child Labor, Kidnapping And Abduction, Forms Of Child Abuse